Carneades’ Quip: Orality, Philosophy, Wit, and the Poetics of Impromptu Quotation

This paper explores the reworking of orally-derived poetry and myth amongst philosophers in the Hellenistic age. The specific topic is a series of poetic quotations that were exchanged between Carneades of Cyrene and one of his pupils. An analysis of this exchange suggests that the aesthetics and communicative power of oral poetics continued to be operative even in the most learned circles of the Hellenistic period and could be invoked to score humorous and sophisticated philosophical points.